Lost Highway (1997)

Viewed February 17th

A musician who kills his wife because he can't please her creates a fantasy world in which he's a younger, more virile man; ultimately, though, he can't escape reality.

Lost Highway occupies an interesting place in David Lynch's filmography. Released in 1997, it falls in-between the strange, but ultimately hopeful psychological mysteries of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks and the relatively darker full-on surrealism of Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Its plot is a metaphysical puzzle but ultimately it is, like Blue Velvet, a sort of dream of a film noir in which all the subtext of those classic films is brought to the surface in prototypically "Lynchian" terms. However, the outlook & atmosphere here are notably bleaker than the already fucked-up Blue Velvet. There is no possibility of a happy ending in Lost Highway. Men here are either impotent or they're violent to mask their impotence. Women, meanwhile--even in their doubled blond/brunette form--are uncaring, deceitful temptresses. The film begins with a hope that all of that gender unpleasantness might be resolved, but it ends with a sense that you'd be naive for ever having considering that hope. And, finally, Lynch's style in Lost Highway is pretty quick to dip into cinematic reverie and the representation of non-reality in a way that also feels like a fulcrum between the relatively more "realistic" Blue Velvet and the clearly unrealistic Mulholland Drive. In short, Lynch was, with Lost Highway, beginning his fully unbridled, studio-sanctioned descent into the unconscious.

The result is fascinating and could be endlessly analyzed (and has been endlessly analyzed), but, as a film, it doesn't fully capture the audience as much as either Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. The result is that you feel time pass more and Lynch's ability to transcend the awkwardness of "being weird" feels compromised. The audience can think about what they're watching but not exist inside it. The problem here is that when the edgy but insecure everyman protagonist, perfectly embodied by the unshaven Bill Pullman, transforms into his virile double in order to save, rather than kill, the object of his desire, the world of the young double (represented but not embodied by Balthazar Getty) feels less like a realized cinematic world. Bill Pullman's world, the "reality" of the film, felt like a place you could inhabit--a slick and soulless L.A. modernist nightmare in which around every corner the dark could suck you in. It's an absorbing world. It's bleak, but he has us living there. However, when we get to the San Fernando Valley car mechanic world of Balthazar Getty, things never congeal in the same way and Getty doesn't absorb enough attention through his eyes to hide that fact. It's only when Pullman comes back in at the end that that the audience is gripped back into the world of the film, not merely content to look at its surface and piece together what the hell is going on. That puzzle aspect of Lynch works best as a byproduct of his ability to create a navigable world.